If you are anticipating the arrival of a new child in care to your home, you’re likely experiencing a wide range of emotions — from nervousness to excitement and everything in between! The first 24 hours is an important window for the foster family and the child, or children, in care. Within this time frame, you will exchange introductions, welcome them into your home, and share your first meal together.
Knowing what meal to offer your new child in care might seem daunting, so we have provided you with some helpful strategies to navigate that experience so that everyone involved has a pleasant time together.
Gather dietary restrictions and preferences before arrival.
You might be able to identify dietary restrictions and food preferences before the child’s arrival, and it is worth the effort to do so. Take those restrictions and preferences into consideration when preparing your first meal.
Have snacks available upon arrival.
The kiddo may not arrive during a typical “mealtime” window, so have some snacks available upon arrival.
Snack items you could have on hand include:
Consider a couple of non-dairy snack options as well.
Use simple and recognizable ingredients for the first meal.
It’s beneficial to keep the first few meals with your new family members as simple as possible! Including ingredients that would likely be recognizable to the children in your care can make them feel more comfortable and help the meal be more approachable.
Once you know their dietary restrictions and food preferences, you can expand your menu with more creative options. Below are a few meal ideas that are simple, familiar, delicious, and nutritious:
Chicken and rice
Spaghetti and garlic bread
Chicken strips and mashed potatoes
Beef and vegetables
Vegetable soup and crackers
Have a backup plan.
It is not uncommon for a child to reject the first meal you offer them. This could happen for a variety of reasons: they feel intimidated by the offer, they have suffered from traumatic events involving food in the past, they don’t recognize what’s being offered to them, they have a fear of eating in front of strangers, they’ve never eaten a well-balanced meal before, they’ve never experienced a collective “mealtime” before, etc.
If your child in care refuses to eat what’s on the menu, consider ordering in and allowing the child to choose their meal. You can do this through food delivery apps or local restaurants that allow you to order in advance.
Strategies for a child that refuses to eat.
If the kiddo refuses to eat, you’ll want to communicate with them safely and gently. Here are a few strategies you can try:
Reassure your child in care that they are safe to eat as much as they like during mealtimes
Ask the child in care if there is a problem with the current food being offered
Offer the option to eat alone in their room in the event they have a fear of eating in front of strangers (use caution on utensils provided)
Ask if there is something else they’d like to eat
Continue to offer food every 2-4 hours
If you could not gather insights into your child’s dietary restrictions and food preferences before their arrival, this is an excellent opportunity to communicate with the child and their bio family to gather those answers yourself! Be sure to speak to them gently without giving them pressure to answer questions they may now know the answers to.
Please remember that children in care often come from backgrounds where they weren’t educated on well-balanced meals and food ingredients, so providing visuals of food items can be helpful in this situation. Use the information gathered to dictate future meals.